While the level of anticipation for Kensuke’s Kingdom may not quite match The Boy and the Heron, the execution of this adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s classic tale is quite astounding, from the style choices in art, animation and design, to the script. Kensuke’s Kingdom follows Michael, who is left stranded at sea with his dog Stella. They wash up on a lonely and seemingly empty island. As the days come and go for Michael, he realises he and Stella may not be alone after all. In the depths of the forest is Kensuke, an old man living off the land with a penchant for making friends with animals and painting. While Michael learns to adapt to his new life, he helps Kensuke relearn the value of human connection. The two form a strong and unforgettable bond, driven by their isolation and individual grief over lost family.
Michael is a fascinating protagonist. As he’s a child, a lot of the things he does and says can be frustrating to witness: he thinks he knows better than everyone else, he’s stubborn and rarely listens to adults talking. Half the misfortunes he encounters are a direct consequence of his actions. His naivety not only results in himself getting hurt but everyone else around him as well. Which is why it’s so satisfying to watch his character arc. His growth from a clueless and disobedient little boy to a compassionate and sacrificial protector of the animals is incredible. The process is slow, with lots of trial and error that often end with Kensuke getting angry or covering for his mistakes. But it’s this careful build-up that keeps the audience rooting for him. They’ll feel so many things for Michael – from annoyance to pride and endearment towards his relationship with Kensuke.
Kensuke’s Kingdom has some of the most calming sights to be seen in the whole of the London Film Festival. It’s the combination of 2D art with the CGI render of light, water and shadows that make every scene so full of texture and colour. The simple character design helps the picturesque frames of nature stand out more. While a couple of shots are reused, overall, the visuals have such intense detail to them that every scene feels fresh and new. It helps that the accompanying music has an uplifting and vibrant feel to it, very much like John Powell’s work with the How to Train Your Dragon franchise or the music for Gints Zilbalodis’s Away. One sequence that perfectly exhibits the brilliance of the production is the retelling of Kensuke’s time at war.
Overall, Kensuke’s Kingdom is a hidden gem with a lot to offer: a compelling story, marvellous sights and scenes, a heartfelt friendship that both hurts and heals that lost soul within one’s self, and characters so charming they’ll continue to live on in everyone’s hearts long after the film is over.
Kensuke’s Kingdom does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.